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I met my lover barefoot and he welcomed me back home

2024

Sara Jajou, Jackson Elhage and Andrea Thao  
Embroidered tapestry
580 X 300cm

This work came at a time when art was both mentally and physically hard for me to make.
In the midst of the turbulence, I met my lover Jackson and I found healing and solace in my love we shared.
For the first time in my life, I found myself writing love poems. 
We made a tapestry together with the first four poems I wrote, and a poem written by Jackson. 
This work was shown at Love Song at Bus Projects.

*A digital version of the poems can be found at the bottom of the page for more visible reading.


Reflections:

Sara: How did you feel receiving the first love poem I wrote for you?

Jackson: I felt really moved. Obviously I felt loved already, but seeing it put into writing like that cemented it for me. Your poetry was really personal, you wrote about things I was passionate about, things I loved about myself. The idea that you saw those things too, loved them enough to not only write words but embroider them onto fabric too, it was a special feeling. 

When you were writing the first poem, did you have trouble finding the words? Did they come to you easier the more poems you wrote?

Sara: I think the poems I wrote about you and for you came to me so naturally and easily, because it is so easy to love you. Like first nature. I spent the whole summer watching you under the sun like you were part of the landscape, and then also being in that same light with you. Hearing you talk about the way light moves and rests on trees, walking on rocks together barefoot and through water, or even that one time we ate apples from a tree on the sidewalk. There was already so much poetry in our love that the words came so organically - all I had to do was spend more time with you.

Is love what you thought it would be?

Jackson: No. I didn't have any concept of it before. It's not a chemical reaction or a feeling. It's something on it's own, above everything. I didn't know how transformative it could be, how much it would fill my life, change my motivations and outlook on the future, create so many moments of emotion I'd never even come close to in the past. I didn't know how many sides there were to love. How much of an investment it is, how much work is involved. You don't fall in love, you create love. Love has me doing and saying things I never thought I'd do. Knowing you so thoroughly is just one part of it. Getting to know myself on this journey has been a blessing. The doors are open now. It's not survival anymore, it's living.

How has your conception of love changed?

Sara: Before loving you, I thought that love had to be really good for so many people to work hard for it. I never fully embraced the individualistic culture of protecting one’s heart from others, of pretending that you don’t want love or would be better without it. At the same time, I thought I could survive a long time without love, on self sufficiency and care. I still believed in love, because I had experienced it in friendships, but it felt awkward to admit that I wanted romantic love too when there is the expectation of being independant. When I met you , I felt the transformative power of love instantly and it has been the most intense feeling I’ve ever felt. All the songs and poetry about love made sense. Life just became more visible and beautiful with you and like you said, I felt like I finally started living. 

Everything I thought about art changed too, I just want to centre love in my art and have you as my audience now. 

Jackson: I know you initially wanted to keep this work as a surprise for me, but I'm really glad we ended up making it together. That's how I feel about the whole show honestly. Being a part of it was magical.

Sara: I’m really happy too. At first I wanted it to be a gift for you, but the secrecy of it all put a lot of unneccessary pressure on us both. It made me realise what the consequences of withholding information could look like and the myth of the ‘white lie’ under the promise of love. I’m grateful that we came together to work on the tapestry together, in both my poetry and yours and now we have something to carry with us forever.

I always envisioned your words at the entrance of the house too,
“I wanna love you after my body gives out. When I’m not here anymore. When I’m dirt.” .... I always wanted your voice to welcome me into the house and I’m happy you embroidered it yourself.

Jackson: Speaking of the house: you originally wanted the fabric to make up the floor, walls and roof of a physical house structure, so people could read the poetry from the inside. Obviously compromises had to be made and we ended up mounting it on the wall. Are you disappointed your original idea didn't pan out or do you think the way we ended up doing it was stronger?

Sara: I think the house would have been too insular. There’s something special about the way we dissected the house into a flat tapestry, there’s so much less constriction and secrecy. I like that it’s vulnerable and open on display, the words are there and you take them as they are. Most importantly though, we made it together. The feeling of achieving something beautiful like this with you outweighs any of the aesthetics or gallery grammar I initially thought were important.


The first two iterations of the house frame in the first mockup made with Andrea, and Jackson in the revised one that we worked on together.


Jackson: In your reflection on Go Home Yankee, both you and Jermaine described your art as insular. What changed? What made you wanna open up, and was it a hard transition for you? As you become more comfortable working in gallery spaces, do you feel less pressure to conform to that "gallery grammar"? Do you feel that constricted you in the past?

Sara: My love I will try my best to respond to everything you asked. For me it was the shift from making art from a place of duty to love. Before in Go Home Yankee, I was making works comtemplating cultural loss and fear of future loss, as well as anger at communal fracture. I still think that type of art is important, but it’s also really hard to make mentally. Softening up to make works about love felt alleviating. Inbetween Go Home Yankee and this work for Love Song, I also read Stan Grant’s book ‘On Identity’ and he makes a great point that identity is not love. It helped me realise that holding onto cultural anxieties and nostalgia had prevented me from love. I like how when we started dating, we talked a lot about culture in the context of celebration, practice and exchange, instead of protection and exclusivity. With you, the politics of Assyrianness and Arabness fizzle away. But when they resurface, they cause conflict and I think it’s all the more reason to put love to the forefront. Not culture. I don’t think you can protect culture and also have love. When I think of us having children, I want them to have love over any burden of identity.

Responding to what you asked about gallery spaces, I think it was always the first point of exhibition while in art school but never my ideal. I’ve always hated the audience exclusivity and whiteness - I never really wanted academics, industry professionals or artists coming to our show. They can, but I want to make art for everyone. I think finally with Love Song, we did get to a point of accessibility beyond gallery grammar and reading art in an academic way. A lot of the gallery rules are still embedded in me and I think I would rather exit the framework altogether to start fresh. I want to move towards community art, workshops and programs instead. Something with less focus on the individual and the gallery.

Jackson: I feel all of that heavily. Culture is something I find really hard to navigate, discussions about it always bring up notes of non-belonging, envy, competitiveness, ego. It puts a lot of strain on people when our differences are highlighted, when cultural pride and defensiveness come into the equation. There's so much similarity between all of us that should be celebrated and shared and brought to the forefront. That's where love comes in. Obviously our kids are gonna be of mixed ethnicity. I can't have them growing up like I did, feeling outcasted from who they are, like they had to play a character to be worthy of the blood they were born with. We can't let them have parents who choose shame and escape over loving embrace. We choose love every time.

Sara Jajou and Jackson Elhage, I met my lover barefoot and he welcomed me back home (2024), embroidered tapestry, 580 x 300cm. Jackson testing out burgandy wool on fabric.

I'm a stranger to gallery spaces. I feel the same way you do, about the stuffiness and hostility and headiness. Your medium intimidated me. Putting Go Home Yankee together as a uni project certainly added to that. I'm so proud of the both of you for reaching a point where you can do it your own way, cultivate your own audience, make your own seat at the table. So many people get sucked in by expectation. That leads me to my question. Work about cultural loss is important, and it's something you intend to dip back into. Do you think that type of art can come from a place of love rather than duty? Do you want to return to insularity? Do you dread returning to that subject matter for fear of how it'll make you feel?

Sara: Because of the way you treated me I was able to make art as your lover instead of an artist. I think like cultural identity, the identity of the artist comes with its own set of expectations and burden of individual suffering. You brought me to a place of rest I wouldn’t have given myself; you cooked for me, fed me, excercised with me and made the work with me. In the last show, I was so engulfed by the idea of being the caretaker that I romantacised suffering for community and neglected myself in the process. I thought it was necessary for a common good of cultural survival. The role of the caretaker and the duties associated faded away with you, because very quickly the caretaker gets sick or tired without any help. Seeing you take on the stress of making art on a time crunch alongside all my specific demands and non-compromise made me realise that too. I’m much happier making art with you as your lover. Whether it’s in a gallery or on your front porch or on Minh’s swivel chairs, I love it when it’s with you.

Jermaine and I also felt this when we made Yankee 1, it was really hard. That sort of work really takes a toll on you emotionally, and we both knew that we couldn’t do a Yankee 2 without it hurting us. At the time, I don’t think we understood how heavy our work was and the consequences it would have on our friendship too. Changing our premise to Love Song was the best choice we ever made.

Cow lying in the fabric after jumping around in it.


If I get back to making art about culture, I want it to be playful and rejuvenating. I think it should be celebratory and spontaneous without any axis of authenticity or margins of exclusivity. Most importantly, I am letting go of the burden of culture because it’s not what I want to pass down. I want our kids to have fun learning animals in Arabic, Assyrian, Italian and English instead of objectifying them as archives of knowledge. I’m not scared of tackling culture because I’m with you.


I also now want to ask you a question habibi. I'm always really amazed by your ability to take on so different creative mediums and opportunities, and put your heart into them everytime. I like your multifacetedness. Like, you do incredible music production, singing and rapping as well as 3D modelling, game mod and design and now more recently spoken word poetry and theatre performance. This was your first exhibition too, I'm wondering if there was anything you particularly enjoyed and would want to continue developing? What is the creative future for my lover? 


Jackson: I really enjoyed the collaborative side of working on Love Song, and the communal aspect of showing work in a gallery. Working with you was an amazing experience, sharing ideas, butting heads, questioning each other, but always landing back at a point of love and respect. I felt good putting my body and health on the line to be with you throughout the whole process, and the presence of a deadline was something foreign to me. When opening night came around, I felt so achieved. The ability to see all the people who viewed our work, discussing it with them, turning a gallery into a house party, seeing new love spring from the work we did, it was something I've never experienced with art like that, but something I always treasured. I remember searching my previous work up online just to see people mention and discuss it. Having that experience in person is something else.

I think I crave collaboration naturally, and I want to continue challenging myself by working on projects with others, setting deadlines, compromising on ideas, iterating with others. Embroidery ain't a bad skill either, and installing the art works was very fun too. Good to drill again.

I wanna end it by saying this. I‘m so proud of you.

Sara: Oh my love I want to end it the same way too. I’m so proud of you. And I love you. 

Jackson: I love you too.

Sara: I win!!!!!!!!!!!! We win!!!!!!!!!!!



Sara Jajou and Jackson Elhage, I met my lover barefoot and he welcomed me back home (2024), embroidered tapestry, 580 x 300cm. Jackson’s embroidered carpet. 

“I wanna love you after my body gives out.
When I’m not here anymore.
When I’m dirt.”


Sara Jajou and Jackson Elhage, I met my lover barefoot and he welcomed me back home (2024), embroidered tapestry, 580 x 300cm

Poem 2 - ‘ وردة ܣܡܘܼܩܵܐ ’

Image courtesy of Andrea Thao.



Sara Jajou and Jackson Elhage, I met my lover barefoot and he welcomed me back home (2024), embroidered tapestry, 580 x 300cm

Poem 1 - ‘a mountain a river a date palm’ 

Image courtesy of Andrea Thao.


Sara Jajou and Jackson Elhage, I met my lover barefoot and he welcomed me back home (2024), embroidered tapestry, 580 x 300cm

Image courtesy of Andrea Thao.